In the year 1913, Thomas Edison wrote in the New York Dramatic Mirror that ‘books will soon be obsolete in the schools… It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture’ (Hamdan Bin Mohammad e-University, Dubai and Concordia University, Montreal, 2011:1). Educational pedagogy is changing. Its philosophy is not as it was a few decades ago. In the past, teachers were the centre of the teaching process and they used to have exclusive leading roles in the educational field.
Now everything has changed drastically. ‘Schools are expected to prepare students for a complex and rapidly changing world’ (Lonsdale and Anderson, 2012:1). Teachers have become facilitators or coaches rather than instructors as they used to be. It is believed that ‘good coaches help people change, great coaches help the change stick’ (Cope, 2010: 107).
Thus, the need nowadays is for educational coaches who inspire young learners to work cooperatively rather than for traditional teachers who encourage students to work competitively. As a result, the so called cooperative learning has made its direct contribution to the educational process.
Cooperative learning is a leading approach which facilitates learning and knowledge acquiring for students. It involves positive interaction among learners and eliminates the psychological barriers that used to exist between teachers and learners. This leads to the adoption of the experiential learning theory which defines learning as ‘the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience’ (Kolb, cited in Kolb, et al., 1999: 2). This learning strategy helps students develop certain skills, and consequently, knowledge is seen as a result of combining acquired knowledge and transforming experience.
In a traditional learning environment, knowledge is usually transmitted to students through a ‘lecture, written material, or other mechanisms’ (Means, et al., 2010:3). Such classical instructions are often contrasted with active learning in which students have control of what and how they learn. Consequently, in the twenty-first century, and due to technological development, a lot of educational programmes have emerged, and they have played a vital role in the cooperative learning process.
These programs adopt the so-called student-centred technique in which students do everything in class and sometimes communicate with their peers abroad under the supervision of their teacher. One of these leading programmes is the “Connecting Classes’ Project.”
What is the idea of Connecting Classes?
Connecting Classes is a leading educational and multi-cultural programme organised and run by some schools around the globe. Due to ‘the rapid pace of globalization’ (Yukl, 2009: 361), this partnership programme aims at linking schools in different parts of the world. The Connecting Classes’ project has three major components: collaborative curriculum projects, professional development for internationalising education and leadership skills.
Through mutual programmes, schools are committed to work on bi-cultural projects through cooperative learning and student-centred techniques. Accordingly, a couple of questions might be asked in this respect: For example: What is the role of educational leaders in driving such an international project effectively and, what are some of the major factors which contribute to the success of Connecting Classes and thus, of cooperative learning? These questions will be answered and treated thoroughly in the lines to come.
For the cooperative learning process to run smoothly, there should be certain basic components. These components involve emotionally intelligent educational leaders, an innovative approach, and a school environment, or a school culture which enhances cooperative learning. In addition, motivation has an essential role in keeping pace with Connecting Classes through cooperative learning.
Moreover, such an educational programme should be part of school strategies to operate effectively. Finally, a team of educators who are honestly committed are badly needed.
Educational Leadership and Connecting Classes
To begin with, educational leadership is the major cornerstone for the success of Connecting Classes through cooperative learning. It is ‘helping people achieve a shared vision, not telling’ … [them] ‘what to do’ (Carnegie, 2009: 33). In other words, innovative teachers and wise coaches show learners where to look, but do not tell them what to see. Leadership is the ability to inspire or influence others to achieve certain goals or visions. Different leadership styles are required in this aspect.
Educational leaders are invited to balance between transformational and transactional leadership styles to run a cooperative learning process. Rafferty and Griffin (2004) suggest that transformational leaders motivate people to perform more than what is expected of them, and they have ‘commitments beyond the self’ (Gardner, cited in Price, 2003: 67). On the contrary, transactional leaders are those who ‘lead through social exchange’ (Bass and Riggio, 2006: 3).
Leaders should also be characterized by a touch of emotional intelligence.
Why Emotional Intelligence?
Since ‘individuals vary in their capacity to process information for an emotional nature’ (Dulewicz and Higgs, 2003: 406), educational leaders should be characterised by emotional intelligence to run an international partnership project such as Connecting Classes through a cooperative learning process. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, and those of the people one deals with. Emotional intelligence has become a prerequisite for leading people in order to ‘manage emotions and to control their impact in a work environment’ (Dulewicz and Higgs, 1999: 244).
An Innovative Approach
The Connecting Classes programme is still a fresh programme in the educational field. Traditional learning approaches are extremely ineffective. Boak (1995: 9) suggests that, ‘there have been innovations in methods of delivery, as straightforward lectures give way to distance’ [and online] ‘learning’. Schools are also competing in the educational market, so there is a need for ‘novel solutions to create competitive advantage’ (Bonn, 2001: 65). Innovation has become essential in the twenty-first century.
Without innovation, schools will deteriorate, and sooner or later they will be doomed to failure and even to death. It is believed that ‘if you’re staying the same’, according to Brown (cited in Charan, 2001: 161), ‘you’re falling behind’.
A healthy school culture
A school culture is a fundamental principle of the success or the failure of Connecting Classes, and subsequently of cooperative learning. ‘Culture is often explained as that which is taken for granted’ (Scholes and Johnson, 2001: 301) in a certain society. However, this “taken for granted” assumption is not always true when talking about Connecting Classes because it is a new project, and it might not be acceptable by a certain school culture.
That is why it is ‘important to consider the culture of the organization’ as Thomson, et al. (1996: 49) suggest, for ‘management should adapt itself to local conditions mainly as to a country’s cultural and social values, traditions and systems’( Bruno and Cabral, 2011: 7). In addition, many sociologists consider culture as “things we do around here”. Why have some schools in certain corners around the world taken huge leaps in implementing and embedding cooperative learning and student-centred techniques while others have taken a few steps backwards? It is because school cultures reflect the societies in which they are located. This might be the reason for the success of Connecting Classes in certain regions and its failure in others.
The Power of Motivation
To keep pace with Connecting Classes and its positive impact on cooperative learning, the power of motivation is to be considered seriously. Such a global educational project requires significant motivation because it cannot be adopted by schools and embedded within their curricula unless a great deal of motivation exists in addition to honest commitment and a visionary educational strategy. Motivation is characterised by future-oriented actions, blending all kinds of motives that can affect human willingness to achieve certain tasks. Angle (cited in McLean, 2005: 233) argues that ‘motivation is important for creativity and innovation, noting that intrinsic motivation for creativity is much more powerful in producing creative behaviour than extrinsic motivation’.
School Strategy and Connecting Classes
In order for Connecting Classes to operate effectively, schools are to consider it as a part of their educational strategies. It should not be intrusively imposed on schools, nor should schools consider it extracurricular. For Connecting Classes to be successful and helpful in sustaining cooperative learning, it has to be implanted within school strategies and acted upon accordingly.
People on the Bus
Many hands make light work. It is not a question of how well the Connecting Classes project works; the question is how well a team of leaders work together. Therefore, a team of committed people is badly needed to run the project smoothly. Collins (2001: 41) believes that first it is necessary to get ‘the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then’ … [figure out] ‘where to drive it’.
Therefore and again according to Collins (2001: 41), it is important ‘to get people committed and aligned behind that new direction’.